It's very seldom anymore that John Hayes goes into a game with less coaching experience than the guy across the field from him.
Thirty-three years as the head coach at Bellwood-Antis High school - with several long playoff runs - will do that.
However, tonight will be one of those rare occasions when the Blue Devils' veteran mentor will be the young pup down on the sidelines.
Jack Henzes has been coaching Dunmore for 46 years, and he'll bring the encyclopedia's worth of football knowledge - as well as a line whose size rivals that of some colleges - to Central Mountain's Don Malinak Stadium to try to derail Bellwood's state title hopes in the PIAA Class A semifinals at 7 p.m.
Both teams are 13-1.
"I love teaching and being involved with the young people. I enjoy it. It's a challenge," said Henzes, 76, who still teaches health, physical education and drivers education while advising Dunmore's SADD program in addition to guiding the football team. "My father was a coach for 33 years. Since I was 12 years of age, I saw how much he enjoyed doing it and the gratification and thought, 'That's what I want to do.' It's not a chore. I can't wait to get to school and teach my classes and get to the program."
The stadium at Dunmore is named for Henzes' father, who won 251 games but was forced to retire at 65. The younger Henzes picked up his 370th win last week, second only in state annals to Berwick legend George Curry. All but one of his assistant coaches played for him, and a couple even married into his family; his son-in-law is the Bucks' offensive coordinator, and his niece's husband runs the offensive line.
While Henzes has put up some big numbers in his career, winning one state championship and finishing as runner-up on another occasion, it is the big numbers on Dunmore's offensive line that have drawn a lot of credit for what the Bucks have been able to accomplish this season.
"What stands out about them is that they're big," Hayes said. "They're athletic. They move well. They're extremely strong up front. It's obviously a great challenge."
Four of the Bucks' starting five offensive linemen weigh at least 230 pounds. Junior tackle James McHale goes 6-foot-6, 285 and has been speculated as a likely scholarship candidate for Penn State next year. The Nittany Lions also are looking at 6-5, 265-pound tackle Mike Boland as a potential walk-on, but Henzes said he's had Pitt and a couple of other big-time Division I colleges show interest.
Behind that group, Dunmore has managed to produce a pair of 1,000-yard rushers by alternating Daiqwon Buckley (1,532 yards), with Austin Seamon (1,132 yards).
"It's nice when I'm lining up at wide receiver or quarterback and having some pretty big kids to run behind," Buck senior two-way starter John Rinaldi said. "They're all athletes, too. They go both ways, for the most part. They're a huge part of our team, because we run the ball. They're all very skilled, as well."
Dunmore's only loss came 21-0 to Old Forge when both Buckley and Seamon were out with injuries. The teams faced off again in the District 2 playoffs, with the Bucks prevailing, 7-6.
"We didn't want to make any excuses. They still beat us pretty good," Rinaldi said. "The second time, we felt that we were much more well-prepared, that we came out a lost faster. I think we just played harder overall. We really wanted the district championship."
Henzes said he expects a very competitive game this evening.
"They're extremely well-coached. They are very persistent in what they do. They use a lot of different formations and run a lot of different plays that get you off-guard. They're very talented. I like the running back that they have [Casey Gray]. The quarterback [Seth Worthing] does an outstanding job. The people up front, 64 [Keith Shawley] is outstanding," Henzes said. "I think we have to limit their possessions. They're going to score points on you. There's no question."
Bellwood will be without one of its offensive weapons tonight: Slotback Haden DeGennaro hurt his ankle in overtime last week against Delone Catholic, and Hayes said he wouldn't play. He's accounted for more than 800 yards rushing and receiving for the Devils this season. Tanner Snyder most likely will take his place on both sides of the ball.
B-A is trying to make the state finals for the first time after being turned away in two previous trips to the semifinals. Hayes said he thinks his players have a good idea of what awaits.
"I think they've got their feet back on the ground. I'm sure they recognize this is a big step, a big hurdle, and they're ready to get ready for it. The attitude's good. It's positive," Hayes said. "These are weeks that you wish you had more time to get ready, but you also wish you could play tomorrow because the anxiety is there. It's something you just want to get to."